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Lost In The Wood

Leonard & Ann Marie Wilson

There's Goodly Trade in Unicorns

I love a good charlatan. It doesn't take a deep analysis of my work to notice that. I've got a soft spot for fictional con-artists like Harold Hill, Bugs Bunny, or the Hugh Jackman version of P.T. Barnum. Yet somehow I can't abide a liar in the real world. Counterintuitive, yes, but it's hardly the only thing about me that appears like total nonsense at a superficial glance.

When it comes down to it, I love those fictional fast-talkers not for their lies, but for their ability to weave a better reality out of nothing but words. Bugs Bunny continually conjures karma for the bullies that cross his path. Harold Hill shakes the dust off a sleepy, unchanging little town and transforms all its residents into brighter and happier versions of themselves. The glamorized Barnum plays Pied Piper to the girl of his dreams, leading her into the wonderland of their shared imaginings even as he forges a troop of marginalized misfits into a family of awe-inspiring performers. Each of those liars has his dark side, yet each is also a study in harnessing that dark side for the greater good. In the real world, habitual liars seldom find such redemption, with one major exception: storytellers. A professional storyteller is a professional liar. And like Harold Hill, a storyteller can create a better world simply by convincing his audience it's possible for such a world to exist, making them long for it, and then leaving them to do the rest. It was following in the footsteps of Harold Hill that I convinced my lovely co-author that -- despite past discouragements -- she did have what it took to be a writer. One of my greatest achievements to date, the belief ushered in a world where she finished her first novel a month ahead of me.

As in that personal example, words don't have to be lies to change the world, but humans are hard-wired to love a good lie -- especially when they know going in that they're being lied to. No one wants to hear a minute-by-minute recount of your day manning the grill at your fast-food job. If they wanted that, they could just get behind the grill themselves. But lies can whisk people away to a magical life they could never experience otherwise. For a short while, they can feel what it's like to be the plucky orphan overcoming adversity to save the world. They can become a thrill-seeking star pilot or a cunning freedom fighter. They can become literally anything -- live any life -- that a skilled liar can envision. And even though their life in that fiction must all too soon fade, giving ground back to relentless reality, it never totally goes away. To paraphrase my all time favorite poem ("The Unicorn Trade" by the recently departed Karen Anderson), that fictional life is theirs to keep, as real as any memory.

If you're any sort of kindred spirit in loving and respecting the power of these benevolent, invited lies, then you'll understand how shattered I was to find such bald-faced, malevolent lies taking over our national halls of power recently. Only by appreciating the full power of lies and by studying the tactics of charlatans can you truly appreciate the precipice the world has been dancing along. Two years ago, I was giddy with the accomplishment of finishing my first novel and shopping around for an agent. Then poltics happened, and suddenly my little dream so recently realized after so many years paled into tawdry nothingness. It's taken this long for me to find faith in my own lies again.

So, here I am, back and -- along with my lovely co-author -- ready for another bite at weaving a better world using only the power of words. With your kind permission, I'd like to lie to you. Just be warned, my idea of a better world involves lots of roller coasters.

 

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